5 Keys to Managing Food Allergies

8 common allergens

Whether or not you have had allergy testing done, you may know or suspect that you have food allergies. However, what you may not know is that you can develop allergies to new foods!

If you are eating the same foods over and over, you increase your risk of developing an allergy to them. To avoid new allergies and reduce reactions to foods you are sensitive to, try these tips for managing food allergies.

1. Eat whole unprocessed foods

When people get diagnosed with a food allergy (gluten, for example), many quickly run to the snack aisle of the health food store in search of allergen-free replacements for their favorite processed foods. However, many processed foods still have harmful levels of common allergens. This is especially true in manufacturing facilities that are not certified with GMP, or “good manufacturing practices”).

The easiest way to avoid allergens is to simply eat foods in their whole, unprocessed forms. If you shop the produce section, there is no need to carefully read ingredient labels- you can just see what’s in the food!

When you must buy a processed food, do so sparingly, since they are less healthy and more expensive. You can find brands that process their ingredients in allergen-free facilitiesEnjoy Life is one such company.

vegetables by Rick Ligthelm

©Rick Ligthelm

2. Know food families

If you know you’re allergic to a member of one food family, you will want to watch for reactions to foods in the same family.

For example:

  • Nightshade family (Solanaceae): eggplant, pepino (melon pear), bell peppers, sweet peppers, cayenne peppers, chili peppers, paprika, pimiento, potato (all varieties except for sweet potato), tobacco, tomatillo, tomato, tree tomato
  • Cashew family (Anacardiaceae): cashew, mango, pistachio, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac
  • Compositae (formerly Asteraceae) [These foods and plants are related to ragweed and may bother people who are very allergic to ragweed pollens]: cardoon, chamomile, chicory, coltsfoot, costmary, dandelion, endive, escarole, globe artichoke, goldenrod, Jerusalem artichoke, and artichoke flour, lettuce, pyrethrum, romaine, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, sunflower meal, tansy (herb), tarragon (herb), witloof chicory (French endive), yarrow
  • Walnut (Juglandaceae): black walnut, butternut, English walnut, hickory nut, pecan

Reviewing these lists will help you realize that while you may be sensitive to walnuts and pecans, you may tolerate foods from other families, like peanuts, Brazil nuts, and nutmeg just fine. Remember that everyone is unique, so just because you share one allergy with another person, it does not necessarily mean you will react to all the same foods they do.

3. Try a rotation diet

While avoiding some foods, you may overeat substitutes for those foods. Overeating any one food can cause food allergies. To avoid this reaction, try a rotation diet. Rotate when you eat biologically related foods; it can help control food allergies, protect against new ones, and help you identify if certain foods are causing issues.

Separate when you eat foods by at least 4 days. For example, if you eat dairy on Monday, don’t eat it again until Friday. This will not only reduce the antibodies that were in your system from the first exposure, but it will also help you eat a more varied diet.

4. Eat organic and non-GMO food as much as possibleNational organic program logo

Genetically modifying a food can create an unfamiliar new protein, which could then act as an allergen. We also don’t know much yet about the health effects of GMOs- they may cause imbalances in gut bacteria, which is linked to gut permeability and food allergies. Similarly, people may have reactions to a chemical on food rather than the food itself. If you can, try switching to organic produce and see if some of the reactive symptoms go away.

5. Change your perspective

Getting diagnosed with food allergies is tough. It’s hard to navigate food rules and figure out what to eat when your old staples are no longer options. At first you will probably feel resentful, but as with everything, your attitude will completely determine how the experience goes.

Instead of thinking about all the things you cannot eat, focus on what you can. Enjoy experimenting with new foods and recipes. Get creative and combine things you wouldn’t have thought to put together. Try to connect with others who are on special diets- organize a potluck or a meal prep day so you can inspire each other with delicious recipes and not feel like you’re missing out on anything.

8 common allergens

The Big 8: The most common food allergens